This is a post I wrote on Facebook about a year ago, and am transferring it here now. Keep in mind that I use Personal, Social, and Physical in place of Good, Beautiful, and True throughout.
Another area of martial arts which can sometimes be controversial is chi. Perusing the blogs and forums out on the internet will reveal much colorful discussion, sometimes bordering on uncivil, with regards to the existence of chi and what it does. As might be expected, the viewpoints on it are partial and reflect the Stages of the people who post about it, as well as our upbringing in martial arts. From a personal standpoint, this does not have to be a contentious thing. Many of the views expressed on the subject have a kernel of truth to them.
So what is chi, and how does it work? As something that falls into the Personal area of existence, it certainly is that, personal. It is difficult to prove to or show someone outside of yourself. Nevertheless, there is a good explanation for it and what it can and cannot do. Chi is nothing more and nothing less than the Subtle part of our own bodies. In the Personal area or UL Quadrant, our bodies come into existence as three connected pieces: Gross, Subtle, and Causal. If the Gross piece is the “meat” or base life force of what we are, the Subtle is that energy of life that animates us, and the Causal is that uknowable source from which it all begins.
The controversy over chi merely arises from the differing interpretations that all the Stages give it. Pre-modern Stages, like Purple and Red, give it a magical quality. They post videos on YouTube of old men throwing attackers in all directions just with the powers of their chi. Usually the video is accompanied by reverent praise for the person being filmed, since for some reason he is the only one that they know who can do these things. Naturally, the modern Stage folks, i.e. Orange, jump all over this. They post their own videos of pit fighters taking apart those old men and beating them with their own dismembered limbs. (This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but videos of younger fighters beating up old “chi-masters” do exist on YouTube.) The modern practitioners completely disavow all existence of chi for the most part. They explain that proper body mechanics are all that is needed to deliver a lethal strike. Experience with real combat also supports this quite well.
The modern view is still just as limited as the pre-modern. While the pre-modern views tend to overstate chi and exhibit something called “wish fulfillment” in their beliefs that superhuman feats are possible, the modern types just say chi does not exist at all. This is a limitation because it compresses all of existence down to nothing but the Physical perspective. It denies the Personal and Social completely by stating that everything is just Biology and Physics, nothing more. A broader post-modern view of chi might push the theory that even though the modern folks do not see it, chi exists and probably has a valued place in fighting applications. Unfortunately, this quickly runs up against the post-modern limitation present in most subjects: the assumption that all things are equal when they are not.
It really takes an Integral view to make peace again between the different interpretations of chi. As talked about with the four Quadrants, things co-arise. Chi exists as a major component of the Subtle body, which simultaneously co-arises with the physical body, and also co-arises with the Social and Physical. Pre-modern individuals truly believe in the magical qualities of chi and what it can do, and though it remains to be seen on a case-by-case basis whether people like this can be exposed to a broader view, there is no need to be angry with them. The gift in their beliefs is to realize that it was pre-modern martial artists in the first place who probably discovered chi for martial purposes. Our ability to sense and feel chi can be enhanced by what they know. By the same token, the modern Stage martial artists bring a lot to the table also by putting an end to the mythology of what chi is supposedly able to do. They wake us up and make us understand that this is a Subtle force and as such it is not a Gross phenomenon. Nobody is going to push an attacker 20 ft. into the air with chi alone.
Without the post-moderns, we would never believe in chi ever again, because it seems to have a lack of obvious application in real fighting. However, it does indeed play a part in real combat. Chi is still a part of our Personal anatomy. It exists and is there whether it can blow an attacker through a wall or not. When a woman is being mugged and fighting for her life and her pulse is approaching 200 beats per minute, she will have an extremely difficult time closing her hand into a fist, let alone being able to concentrate on moving energy through her hand as she strikes. The key here is that she does not have to think about energy at all. The Integral view brings something new to the table. All of these areas, the Gross, Subtle, and Causal are unavoidably connected and present all the time, whether that woman being mugged is thinking about them or not. If the woman brings herself to strike back, the chi will move through her hand involuntarily, because it is part of her hand. This is true if she has been practicing martial arts for 30 years or never.
So, what does the chi do in this example? It delivers the punch. If the woman’s body mechanics are correct, or better yet, if they are optimal, the punch will be harder. Simultaneously, if her body mechanics are correct and optimal, the punch will carry more chi with it. The body mechanics and the chi are inseparable. The energy delivered by her punch is equal to the weight of her fist times its velocity squared divided by two from the Physical perspective, which simultaneously co-arises in the Personal area as chi, and in the Social area as a transfer of whoopass from her to the attacker, which will undoubtedly deliver a message of some sort.